AFTER a week of much controversy, the Kerry cavalcade made their way to Patrick Kavanagh country for their clash with ‘Banty’ McEnaney’s Monaghan and a familiar old feeling quickly collided with the new normal.
he GAA community were badly in need of a positive start to this weekend’s games and a mere 46 seconds in David Clifford swept a sumptuous left-foot effort over the bar. Three minutes later he balanced his return with a marked effort off his right. In an instant he had reminded us why all the effort to bring inter-county action back was worth it. Mayo’s swashbuckling first-half performance in Tuam breathed further life into the lungs of GAA2020.
It is fair to say that a degree of Covid hysteria had gripped the nation. With rising cases and talk of a Level 5 lockdown combining with the sulphurous fallout from the club finals, the GAA again became open season. Unfairly so.
Social media’s populist cancel culture went into overdrive, with the planned inter-county season firmly in its sights. For a period between Monday and Friday, logic and rational thinking left the building. Thankfully, the GAA don’t govern based on social media polls.
One of the many ‘red herrings’ flouted was the supposed heightened risk to the Kerry players travelling to Monaghan, a Level 4 designated county. You’d swear they were planning a whistlestop tour of the border shebeens such was some of the scare-mongering nonsense being tossed around.
I’d argue county GAA grounds are some of the most sanitised and controlled environments in the country at present. So high are the stakes, nothing will be left to chance. TV evidence, along with testimonies from those involved, proved as much. The worst thing the Kerry players were likely to get from their visit was a dodgy fill of diesel for their journey home.
As part of the GAA Covid advisory group. close monitoring of any Covid incidence rate associated with GAA clubs during the summer, assured us that once our protocols are followed, there is no measurable risk to those involved within the white lines. These protocols have been bolstered to accommodate the inter-county game, including a rapid testing system. We all accept now that it is what happens away from the game that needs to be everyone’s personal responsibility. And based on what we know to date, viewers and players alike should have few concerns regarding what they will enjoy over the coming weeks and months.
John Heslin became the poster boy for GAA critics after tweeting his concerns about inter-county action returning. Such concerns thankfully didn’t appear to weigh too heavily on John’s mind however, as he went on to deliver a tour de force in Westmeath’s impressive dismantling of Leinster rivals Laois on Saturday.
Yet it is understandable for John, and others, to voice their concerns about what they are being asked to face into. Similar concerns were evident this summer prior to club action resuming, but as was also proven then, once the white lines are crossed, such issues leave a player for that next hour and a half when they get to do what they love.
During the fallout from last week, my phone was hopping with texts and calls from all corners of the GAA community. My general response was that things will die down once the games commence and we see what have been missing, but more importantly how well the games will be administered from a H&S perspective. Thankfully it has been proven thus. After a few despondent Mondays, the mood feels lightened today, thanks to the impressive exploits of our elite players, along with those maintaining exemplary H&S standards off it.
Between the 43rd and 44th minute of Saturday’s encounter between Kerry and Monaghan, we got to see two of the game’s greatest proponents do what they do best. No sooner had Conor McManus reintroduced himself with a wonderful score, Clifford responded with his own devastating combination of speed, strength and accuracy. If those cameos couldn’t momentarily lift your downtrodden spirits, few things will.
After a dismal week in which even poor Amy Huberman took a hammering on the back of her humourless RTE show, real joy was eventually found emanating from the county grounds across the country. A fair wind blows again in the GAA sails, after a largely positive opening weekend. It won’t be an easy run to Christmas, that is for sure, but yet most things in life worth having are not easily obtained.